Creativity Inspiration

The Lessons of Subject Matter

The Lessons of Subject Matter

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The subject matter we are drawn to paint and how we ultimately portray it is as diverse as the human experience itself. This is what makes painting so exciting.

The three broad categories of subject matter are: still life, portrait and landscape. All of us have formed personal relationships with different subjects through our individual interactions with them, and we are capable of telling a story through this shared human experience. These perspectives form our attitudes and emotions when painting. By arranging and orchestrating the visual elements of the composition and utilizing a myriad of painting techniques, we make it individual.

In becoming a well-trained painter, each of these subject areas—still life, portrait, and landscape—provides a lesson and should not be overlooked due to a lack of motivation. You may not be attracted to the still life, uninterested in the portrait, or feel dispassionate about the landscape, but by practicing them you will polish technical skills that make you a more confident painter. A painting is a configuration of accurate shapes, a representation of lights influences, and a sensitive arrangement of colors. These exist in every representational painting, and for that matter every abstract painting. Individual subject matter is all composed of them. In that regard, everything we paint is all the same. Each subject does provide a heightened lesson, though. The still life teaches the importance of value. Within the confines of a relatively small distance, the influence of light and the manipulation of edge create form. The portrait teaches accurate drawing. The human likeness allows for no error. The landscape teaches color harmony. Natural light and its influence across nature’s palette help us to understand the relationship all colors have to one another. A wise instructor passed this thought on to me many years ago: “To learn value relationships, it’s the still life; to draw, it’s the portrait; and to become sensitive to color, it’s the landscape. Each has something to offer. Practice them often and then paint your passions!”


  • Richard McKinley on DVD
  • Watch art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV
  • Online seminars for fine artists
  • Get a copy of Pastel Pointers, the book!

Watch the video: States of Matter: Solid Liquid Gas (August 2022).